Self-driving news

Today there were several in-depth articles in the New York Times about the first reported death in a Tesla while the car was driving itself. The death occurred on May 1, when a tractor-trailer unexpectedly cut off the vehicle, and the robot autopilot failed to swerve out of the way.

The slant of every article was the same: Because the Tesla’s autopilot failed to save its occupant, maybe self-driving cars are not yet ready for prime time.

What none of the articles failed to acknowledge was that the death was caused not by an errant Tesla autopilot, but by an errant tractor-trailer driver. A human, through faulty decision making, inadvertently killed another human, and the Tesla’s software failed to prevent that death.

Am I the only person who finds this absurd? The killer on our roads isn’t software, it’s human drivers. Automobile accidents are the single largest cause of death in the U.S. after heart failure and cancer. The death toll from people killing and maiming themselves and others while driving their cars vastly exceeds all fatalities and injuries to U.S. citizens from warfare or terrorism.

OK, in this one case out of many the robot did not succeed in stopping someone driving a vehicle from inadvertently killing somebody else. But why blame the software? Clearly the solution is to get all those killer humans out of the driver’s seat.

A road on which all vehicles were robot driven would be a completely cooperative road. No humans with bad judgement would be cutting off and killing other humans, no drivers would be trying to guess what’s on the mind of other drivers. It would all be a single coordinated packet-switching network, with every vehicle knowing, at all times, the exact location and intended movement of every other vehicle.

So why is this story not being reported for what it really is? Suppose after the horrific shooting in Orlando, the news media had focused entirely on the failure of bullet proof vests to save every victim.

I can envision hand-wringing editorials declaring that bullet proof vests are not yet ready for prime time, and criticizing the makers of bullet proof vests for not taking responsibility for the lives of the murdered people their vests had failed to save.

Wouldn’t that be a completely idiotic view of the situation?

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